A hole in my game

Something I’d like to improve at in poker is knowing when to call when someone else opens or raises, particularly preflop.

I do pretty well most of the time when I’m in the driver’s seat: when I open/raise. Poker advantages the aggressive, and the way to be aggressive is to bet. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, and it’s taken me this far. There’s a lot of players who are timid enough that they can be exploited with strong betting. Of course it always helps to have the cards.

To go next level, I think I need to play better in tables when more players are taking initiative preflop and raising their starting cards. Usually, unless I have a pair or A/K-X suited, or two face cards, I’m reluctant to call if someone else raises.
Basically, my calling range is tighter than my opening range. That makes sense, right?

But I wonder if it’s too tight sometimes. Sometimes I fold what I’d consider borderline playable hands, hands like K9+, KXs, A7, JT, 66+, thinking they’re not good enough to call with, only to see them hit a monster flop, and then I feel regret for not being able to call.
I’m savvy enough to know it depends on some factors: positioning, size of the call, relative stack sizes, number of players in the hand, etc. But I think I still need to refine my thinking about these factors.

And then if calling is good, it might be a better idea to raise. Put the pressure back on them. Put more people out of the hand. Put more chips in to win a bigger pot.

Postflop, I usually have a good sense of where I’m at in the hand and whether I can call or not. Preflop, I have a lot less information, so less certainty.

What is the thinking among better players on calling?

Thanks :slight_smile:

Yes, it’s usually correct. As for the rest, add table image and what you know about the other players. You can’t boil it down to a formula. OK, maybe the accountants do, but if AI research has told us anything, it’s that rules-based strategies aren’t optimal.

That’s why they are moving towards machine learning-type approaches . Over 40 years of the best programmers and scientists have never been able to make rules-based stuff work, except for the simplest games.

You really have to develop a feel for it. I’m not one of the “better” players, but that’s my take on it.

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It’s simple, just go all in every hand! :grin:
Just kidding of course but speaking for myself, I would probably call with any of those hands preflop unless it was such a big bet (more than a x3 bet) I wouldn’t want to risk it…post flop is a different story if my hand didn’t improve.

That’s because human players are inconsistent, irrational, and play sub-optimal strategies because they’re not as precise math calculators as machines can be. Makes sense that rules-based AI wouldn’t work.

I’m not looking for rigid rules, more like heuristics.

Aren’t we all.

I think you have the main parts of it figured out, but you might want to pay closer attention to the human aspect of the game.

Generally, facing a preflop raise, I lean toward raising or folding preflop, unless I close the action with my call. When there are players left to act behind me, three things can happen:

  1. They squeeze. If my hand wasn’t good enough to 3-bet, do I really want to commit substantially more chips to the pot facing two active aggressors?
  2. They call. Now I have to play the hand multi-way, dropping my equity, while making postflop decisions trickier.
  3. They fold. This makes me happy. However, if they’re folding to an open and a call, chances are they’d fold to a 3-bet, too.

In a fairly passive game where I probably won’t get squeezed, I might call a smallish open with a low-to-mid pocket pair that would have to fold if I 3-bet and the original raiser (or another player yet to act) 4-bet. That could give me the chance to set-mine with some decent implied odds, especially if I’m in position.

However, if you’re in the big blind and your call will close the action, your call range should be much wider than your 3-bet range. A lot of hands that could play well post-flop, like medium unsuited connectors, or suited one- or two-gappers, or unsuited Broadways, should fold to a 4-bet. Playing those as a call would win you more money (or lose you less) in the long run.

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I nearly always fold unsuited A 7 unless I am in the blinds, because unless you make trips or two pairs on the flop, you will probably end up in an ambiguous situation if you make a pair on the flop and the first raiser is almost certain to make a continuation bet. If an opponent raised before you, that increases the likelihood that you are against an Ace with a better kicker than yours. If the stack sized permit and this player is a frequent raiser, moving all-in might be the better option as the combined odds of opponent folding plus you winning the hand in a showdown should be in your favor.

In tournament play, once the blinds are getting up there, you simply cannot afford to get into many pots that you do not win, because the cost of seeing a flop is so high relative to stacks, so it often becomes all or nothing at all.


Multiway is good for strong draws and bad for vulnerable made hands.

I’ll generally fold A7, too, but it’s playable in some situations, especially heads-up. I wouldn’t usually call with it to a preflop raise, but sometimes I’ve been heads-up and dominating my opponent, and they’ll desperation-shove, I have them covered 4:1 or better in stack size, and it’s fine to call there, for example.

Calling from where? UTG+1 to an UTG open? Calling from the BTN? From the blinds? The answer to your question depends on who is opening from what position, who has called ahead of you, who is left to act after you and what your position on the table is. Is the player opening 20% or 5% or 50%? What effective stacks you’re working with? Just pointing to a series of hands and saying “these are the hands you call with” would be a terrible answer.

IMO, where you should start to work on your calling range is when you’re on the BTN, not when in the BB. Everyone says you can call super wide from the BB because you’re getting a great price and all that. Bullsquirt. Unless you are playing high-level opponents, you can defend much lighter in the BB than what they say is optimal. Lets say you decide to defend a full 50% so that you can’t be exploited by someone raising any 2 cards. OK, fine. How often are you folding to their c-bet? Unless you are willing to continue to defend an optimal amount postflop, why the heck would you agree to do so preflop? Why would it sound smart to agree to call 50% of the time preflop just to fold 75% of the time to the c-bet? You can actually overfold your BB and be better off for it. No one is making money consistently from the blinds without a very advanced strategy and a massive skill advantage. Stop bleeding money from the blinds just because someone once told you that if you don’t defend enough, you suck at poker.

The BTN is a different story. Position is the single most important factor in the game that is within your control. So, I’d look for situations where the blinds are unlikely to squeeze you out and work on a flatting range when you’re on the BTN. Once you have a good handle on that range, then you can work on ways to have the effective button (ie stealing position).

You are going to make most of your profits with your strongest hands when you’re in position. IMO, this part of the game is the one you want to have down solid before going off and looking for other ways to get better. Before you work on sick thunder-dunks, you had better know how to protect and pass the ball.

BTW - its probably easier to work on this playing short-handed ring games rather than in tournaments. Don’t add in changing effective stacks and increasing blinds until you have it down without all those extra variables.